cover image James Wright: A Life in Poetry

James Wright: A Life in Poetry

Jonathan Blunk. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-0-374-17859-8

Blunk (A Wild Perfection, coeditor) chronicles the life and works of poet James Wright (1927–1980) in this admirable, if sometimes overbearing, authorized biography. Given access to Wright’s unpublished work and drawing on more than 200 interviews (most notably with Wright’s friend Robert Bly), Blunk offers a wealth of details about the poet’s personal and professional life, to an extent that can be off-putting. For instance, do we need to know that Wright mailed one correspondent “four-by-six-inch lined notebook sheets filled with single-spaced type, punched with six holes in the margin and hand-numbered at the top”? His domestic life is extensively delineated—a turbulent first marriage, an enduring second one—as is his long battle with alcoholism and depression. Blunk gives discerning attention to Wright’s work, following individual poems from draft form to critical reception, as he traces Wright’s larger artistic trajectory from his first book, 1956’s The Green Wall, to his posthumously published last, 1982’s This Journey. Blunk draws a particular contrast between The Green Wall, where the poems are highly and conventionally structured, and 1963’s The Branch Will Not Break, where Wright’s freer, experimental voice is first heard. Unarguably the definitive work on Wright, this biography contains perhaps more than a simple admirer of his work needs to know. 16 pages of b&w illus. [em](Oct.) [/em]